Depending on your requirements, the level of service you require from a letting agent will vary. As a general rule there are 2 levels of service:
Tenant Find or Let Only
The agent is responsible for marketing your property, selecting and referencing prospective tenants, drawing up the tenancy agreement and arranging for the ongoing rent to be paid to the landlord. Once the tenancy has started, the landlord is responsible for dealing with any maintenance issues, carrying out inspections and generally managing the tenancy. A Let Only service is usually charged as a one-off fee payable from the first month’s rent. This type of service may suit you if you live locally, are happy to deal face to face with your tenants and have a network of reliable contractors you can call on when there is a maintenance issue.
The agent is responsible for everything covered in the Let Only service but the monthly rent is paid directly to the agent. In addition the agent will manage the property on a day to day basis, deal with any maintenance issues, carry out property inspections and pay the rent to the landlord each month, less any costs or fees to be charged to the landlord. This service is charged on a monthly basis with the commission, usually between 10% and 15% of the rental amount, deducted from the rental income. This type of service is aimed at landlords who do not live locally or simply prefer an agent to deal with everything. Many tenants like the peace of mind knowing that they can deal direct with an agent.
There is a lot to do and plenty to think about before you rent out your property. First impressions count for everything when it comes to property, so it's vital your home looks its best for potential tenants. Maintaining this condition for all your viewings will give you the best chance of letting your home and achieving the best possible price.
The external view
This is the first view your potential tenants will have of your property, so you should focus on optimising its appearance. Remember to have this all done before the agent takes the marketing photographs.
- Wash down the front door and make sure the house number is clearly visible
- Tidy up the front and back garden (weed, trim hedges, add some new plants if necessary, clear any dead or unsightly plants, mow and fix any damaged lawn)
- Repair cracks, holes or blemishes in the driveway or walls
- Give the window frames and door a lick of paint if they need it
- Keep rubbish and rubbish bins out of sight
- Clean thoroughly from top to bottom - carpets, floors, windows, fixtures and fittings
- De-clutter and create more space by moving some furniture into storage, tidy away or remove unnecessary objects such as books and ‘knick-knacks’. Clear out cupboards and wardrobes of non-essential items
- Make minor repairs - fix leaky taps and cracks in the walls, replace broken or crooked tiles, replace burned-out light bulbs and make sure everything works!
- Eradicate unpleasant odours like pet smells and cigarette smoke
- Decorate rooms if required - a quick coat of paint can re-energise the appearance of a room.
- Make sure all aspects of your property are up to scratch and meet all of the required standards to give you the best chance of finding the right tenants and achieving the best price.
The garden should be neat and well maintained and with any fences in good order. As a general rule, tenants can only be expected to carry out basic gardening duties; mowing the lawn and keeping beds weed-free. The state of the garden will be reflected in the inventory at the start of the tenancy. It may be prudent to budget for a spring and autumn clear-up if the garden is high maintenance.
It may seem like a lot of work, but with time, energy and even a bit of money spent now, it could really make the difference to how quickly you let your property and how much rent you can charge. The lettings market is highly competitive and tenants can afford to be choosy so set the right impression from the start.
Landlords and letting agents are subject to The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire)(Safety) Regulations 1988 (amended 1989 & 1993) Under the Regulations, upholstered furniture:
- must have fire-resistant filling
- must have passed a match resistance test or, in some cases the cover should have a fitted fire-resistant liner.
- the combination of the cover fabric and the filling material must have passed a cigarette resistance test.
When buying new or second-hand furniture for a rental property, you should always check to see that there is an appropriate label. Furniture or furnishings purchased after March 1st 1990 from a reputable supplier must also be properly labelled with set information and a fire safety warning.
Before you can let your property, you need to consult a number of parties:
Your mortgage lender
Most lenders will give consent to let subject to certain conditions: Your lender may ask that you let your property on an Assured Shorthold basis, that the initial fixed term does not exceed 12 months and that an administration fee is payable.
Your insurance company
If you don't let your insurance company know that you have let your property, you may not be covered in the event of damage, fire or theft.
Your freeholder or head leaseholder (if you have one)
This is important if you wish to let, for example, a leasehold flat.
You may also find it useful to get advice from an accountant or the Inland Revenue.
Choosing a tenant
A successful tenancy is dependent on matching the right tenant to the right property and landlord. A professional agent will ensure that prospective tenants comply with any restrictions that you may have e.g. no smokers, pets or children. Sometimes a restrictive covenant is included in leases e.g. satellite dishes not permitted on the building; your agent should ensure that this information is relayed to prospective tenants. Once an application is received your agent should go through the details carefully so that you, as the Landlord can make an informed decision about whether to proceed with the application or not.
Letting agencies are increasingly outsourcing the reference process to a specialist referencing company. If tenant referencing is done by your letting agent you should ensure that references are ideally obtained from the prospective tenant’s bank, employer, accountant (if the applicant is self-employed) and previous landlord or letting agent. In addition a credit reference will indicate whether the applicant has any previous county court judgement against them. As a landlord you should be aware that references can only give an overview of the applicant, they are not a guarantee for the performance of the tenant.
From 6 April 2007, all deposits taken by landlords and letting agents for Assured Shorthold Tenancies in England and Wales, must be protected by a tenancy deposit protection scheme.
The government has awarded contracts to three companies to run tenancy deposit protection schemes:
1. The Deposit Protection Service (The DPS)
The Deposit Protection Service (The DPS) is the only custodial deposit protection scheme. It is free to use and open to all Landlords and Letting Agents. The service is funded entirely from the interest earned from deposits held. The scheme is supported by a dedicated call centre and an independent dispute resolution service.
mydeposits is a partnership between the National Landlords Association and Hamilton Fraser Insurance. This insurance-based tenancy deposit protection scheme enables landlords, either directly or through agents, to hold deposits. Letting agents can also join the scheme.
3. The Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS)
The Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) is an insurance-backed deposit protection and dispute resolution scheme run by The Dispute Service and is based on a scheme established in 2003 to provide dispute resolution and complaints handling for the lettings industry. The new scheme enables letting agents and landlords to hold deposits.
An assured shorthold tenancy is now the automatic or default form of tenancy for most residential tenancies. An assured shorthold tenancy (AST) gives the landlord the right to get his property back at the end of the tenancy (although a court can still not award possession during the first six months if a tenant refuses to leave). Most ASTs are for a fixed period and this can be for any length of time but will typically be for between 6 and 12 months.
There are a number of important exclusions i.e. tenancies that cannot be ASTs. These include:
- Lettings to companies (private or public limited companies)
- Lettings at no rent, low rent or high rent (over £100K per annum)
- Tenancies granted by a resident landlord (a landlord who lives in the same property as the tenant) e.g. where a landlord rents out an annexe
- Tenancies of property let with more than two acres of agricultural land, or an agricultural tenancy. Tenancies in the excluded categories above will generally be known as 'common law' or 'contractual' tenancies and an AST agreement will not be suitable.
Some applicants may be unable to provide full references. This may be due to:
- A poor credit rating
- Insufficient income
- Not being employed either because they are a student or claiming benefits
- Having recently arrived in the UK from abroad
In these cases you may be happy for a tenancy to proceed providing the applicant has a guarantor i.e. someone who will take on the tenant’s obligations relating to the tenancy in the event that the tenant is not able to. A guarantor should also be referenced to ensure that they are financially capable of taking on the debt if the tenant fails to pay the rent.
The guarantor would be expected to sign a guarantor deed confirming their willingness to act as guarantor for a named tenant relating to a specific property. It is essential that the guarantor is given a copy of the tenancy agreement so that they fully understand the extent of their obligations.
This is a clause sometimes inserted in a fixed term tenancy, typically if the initial fixed term is for a year or more. A break clause will usually be worded in such a way as to allow either landlord or tenant to give two months written notice at any stage after a particular date or period of the tenancy, thus terminating the tenancy earlier than the end of the original fixed term.
This is an absolutely essential document that provides a written benchmark and should be amended, updated and agreed at the beginning of each new tenancy. A properly constructed Inventory/Schedule of Condition details the fixtures and fittings and describes their condition and that of the property generally. Landlord and tenant often share the costs involved in preparing and checking the inventory; such costs should be seen as a necessary investment that helps protect the interests of all parties.
Landlords should be aware that in the event of a dispute at the end of a tenancy, the onus is on the landlord to provide solid evidence that loss or damage has occurred. The tenant’s deposit belongs to the tenant and continues to do so until such time as the landlord becomes entitled to make reasonable deductions from it.
Unlike gas regulations it is not mandatory to have electrical equipment checked each year. However, failure to make sure that electrical equipment and appliances are safe is a criminal offence.
There are two current sets of regulations covering electrical safety and the main thrust of these is that all electrical equipment is safe and that appropriate user instructions are supplied. It is therefore recommended that:
- any electrical appliances in the property are checked by a qualified electrical engineer
- the instruction booklets are available at the property for all appliances and that any necessary safety warnings are given to tenants
- a 5 yearly inspection (Fixed Installation Inspection) is carried out by a qualified electrician to ensure safety and that the electrical system complies with current electrical regulations
The Gas Safety Regulations place a legal duty on landlords and agents dealing with rented properties to ensure that all gas appliances (boiler, gas cooker, gas fire) are safe, and that the flues and pipe work leading to the appliances are safe. The law states that a current gas safety record (Landlord’s Gas Safety Certificate) must be produced and given to a tenant before they move in. Gas appliances and flues in rented accommodation must be checked for safety every 12 months by a GasSafe registered gas installer.
The manufacturer’s installation guide for all gas appliances to be tested must be available at the property at the time of the inspection.
Please note that these Regulations also cover appliances using bottled gas and propane gas.
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Carbon Monoxide has no smell, taste or colour and is therefore impossible to detect until it is too late. Carbon Monoxide Detectors give both a visual and audible warning if there is a build up of CO to dangerous levels and these can easily be fitted and at low cost.
Building Regulations require that all properties built after June 1992 must have mains operated inter-connected smoke alarm fitted on every level of the property. Older properties do not have to comply but landlords would be well advised to provide at least battery operated smoke alarms in the property.
It is important to determine who is responsible for testing and maintaining the smoke alarms - the landlord, agent or tenant. If the tenant is to be made responsible, this should be included in all paperwork relating to the tenancy.
A landlord is considered an overseas landlord for tax purposes if they are out of the country for more than six months in any tax year. Landlords are obligated to pay tax if it is due and must declare their income whether or not they are resident in this country. The tax system for overseas landlords is dealt with through the Centre for Non-Residents (CNR) and overseas landlords must apply to the CNR for consent for their agent to pass on gross rental income (i.e. without deducting tax). If your agent does not have this consent, he is duty bound to deduct an amount equivalent to the base rate of tax from the rent, less any allowable deductions. Please note that these rules also apply to members of H M Forces.
There are certain allowable expenses that can be deducted from rental income:
- Management costs including agent’s fees and VAT
- Insurance premiums for buildings, contents, rent and legal protection
- Interest on a mortgage or loan to purchase or improve the let property
- Upkeep of gardens, swimming pools etc.
- Maintenance and cleaning costs in preparing a property for letting
- Some depreciation for fair wear and tear
- Repairs and maintenance during the tenancy
- Advertising costs
- Legal and accountant’s charges
- Payments for water rates and council tax (if not paid by the tenant)
- Ground rent and service charges
A landlord, in very general terms, has a legal responsibility to repair the structure and exterior of the property, including drains, gutters and external pipes; to keep in working order the installations for the supply of gas, electricity and water; and, for the provision of heating and water heating.
A tenant has an implied covenant to act in a “tenant-like manner”. Broadly speaking, this means a tenant should:
- report maintenance issues promptly and take reasonable steps to ensure that no damage is caused to the property, its fixtures or fittings
- carry out any minor day to day things a home-occupier would normally do e.g. replace light bulbs, fit a new battery in a smoke or CO2 detector, tighten an odd screw which has come loose on a door handle etc.
- keep the property reasonably warm and aired to help prevent condensation or freezing of pipes
- leave the property secure when absent from it
- keep the garden and other areas reasonably tidy and free from rubbish
The purpose of these visits is to ensure that the tenants are looking after the property and are not breaching any of the conditions of the tenancy agreement e.g. by having an unauthorised pet. Your agent should have a set format and checklist and should check on the following:
- repairs that have been undertaken or outstanding work that is required
- the general standard of housekeeping
- evidence of unauthorised occupants – human or other!
- breaches of any of the terms of the tenancy
- signs of condensation
- the general condition of the interior and exterior of the property
- the general condition of the garden, pathways and any outbuildings
Periodic maintenance inspections should be carried out by your agent in line with the terms of business.
The basic definition of an HMO is a house which is occupied by persons who do not form a single household i.e. members of the same family. However, there is a great deal of confusion surrounding HMOs and the rules for deciding whether or not a residential property is an HMO are complex.
The most important point to make is that although a property may fall within the definition of an HMO, it does not automatically follow that it must be licensed. For example a 3-storey property with 5 or more un-related occupants would require a Mandatory HMO licence. However, a residential property rented to three or more sharers, also constitutes an HMO but one that is outside the scope of mandatory licensing.
Non-licensable HMOs are subject to basic standards as laid down under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This covers repair, amenity and fire safety requirements and ensures that the property is generally healthy and safe to live in.
It is important that you consider and budget for any costs you may incur while your property is let and that you don’t rely on the rental income for paying monthly mortgage repayments. Plan carefully and make sure you always have access to funds to cover:
- letting agent or management fees
- insurance premiums
- a contingency budget for general maintenance
- essential repairs as and when required
Landlords should take care to review any existing policies when letting a property as some standard insurance products will either not provide cover, or might place restrictions on cover, for rented property and/or its contents. Failure to inform your insurer that you are letting a property could invalidate any subsequent claim. It is for a landlord to insure the building and his/her contents, fixtures and fittings. The tenants are responsible for insuring any of their own possessions.
It is illegal for a letting agent (or anyone else) to advise on or sell such general insurance products unless they are authorised by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), or, directly regulated by a broker registered with the FSA.
Buildings and Contents Insurance
Mortgage lenders generally require borrowers to take out adequate buildings insurance but often landlords do not see the need to take out contents insurance if the property is unfurnished. However, buildings and contents insurance also gives the landlord a level of public liability cover. Public liability covers the landlord for claims against them by anyone coming into contact with the property e.g. tenants, visitors, contractors and officials. For example, if a tenant tripped on loose carpeting, fell down the stairs, and as a result of injury was unable to work, they could make a claim against the landlord for damages.
Specialist Landlord Insurance
There are various specialist insurance products designed for landlords and rented property:-
Legal Protection Insurance
If a tenant fails to leave a property and the landlord needs legal assistance, this insurance will pay for a nominated solicitor and a barrister to represent the landlord if the matter goes to court.
Rental Guarantee Insurance
As long as the tenant has been referenced to the satisfaction of the insurance company, this type of insurance will cover the rent if the tenant falls into arrears.
Landlord Emergency Protection
A landlord can insure their property and goods with an emergency 24 hour call-out service. A contractor will visit the property and make the problem safe to prevent further damage if they are unable to fix it immediately.
The Association of Residential Letting Agents, ARLA, is the only professional body that is solely concerned with the self-regulation of letting agents and actively promotes the highest standards across every aspect of residential lettings and management in the Private Rented Sector.
ARLA is viewed by government, consumer groups, academia, think tanks and the media as the leading voice in the industry and ARLA members are seen as being at the forefront of the Private Rented Sector. ARLA leads the industry in setting and regulating the highest standards of professionalism and commitment to customer service. ARLA members are required to work within a robust Code of Practice, which covers the key stages in letting and managing a property. There are comprehensive membership byelaws which include compliance with such issues as handling and accounting for clients’ money; the mandatory ARLA Client Money Protection Bonding Scheme; Professional Indemnity Insurance; Dealing with Complaints and Disciplinary Procedures.
ARLA members are required to employ a minimum of at least one member of staff, in any office, who holds a suitable industry qualification, recognised by the Association.
ARLA keeps it members up to date with changes in legislation and provides wide-ranging training and guidance to help members understand and interpret all aspects of letting and managing a property.
A pre-tenancy checklist should help you make sure you've ticked all the right boxes before you make the next step in letting your property.
- Update your insurance to take into account that your property is going to be let
- Get the requisite permission from your mortgage lender
- Obtain approval from the council's planning office (if you plan to make structural alterations to the property or change the property's use)
- Inform the council's Environmental Health Department if you plan on letting as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)
- Make sure all furniture and furnishings comply with the latest fire regulations
- Ensure that all gas appliances and equipment have been serviced by a GAS SAFE-registered engineer and that safety records are kept in a safe place
- Make sure that all electrical wiring has been checked and safety approved by a qualified electrician
- Arrange for any outstanding maintenance issues to be dealt with
- Inform the Council Tax department and utility suppliers that the property will be let
- Give notice to your telecoms provider so that the line can be taken over by your tenant from the start of the tenancy
- Arrange mail-re-direction
- Arrange for keys to be cut
- Put together a house folder of equipment user guides e.g. for the boiler, gas fire and any other electrical appliances to be left in the house